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South Dakota roads challenge agriculture producers

A relaxing country drive is hardly that in South Dakota these days. Head down any gravel road in the region, and it might be a collision course into the harsh realities of the state’s infrastructure and roadway issues.

Just ask BJ Richter, who runs a cow-calf and feedlot business, along with raising corn, soybeans and alfalfa, with his father, Bill, the first generation on the ranch, located near Hecla, SD. The father-son partnership focuses on Simmental and Angus genetics. For the Richters, roadways have been a major challenge for their operation.

“In early April, I had to reschedule over 100 loads of cattle going out to pasture, as well as cattle coming into the feedlot due to South Dakota road conditions,” explains BJ. “There was about three and half weeks where cattle prices were ideal for us, but the calves couldn’t leave the lot because of the roadways.”



Richter’s operation is located eight miles from state roads, and four miles from county roads, so with the wet spring, it quickly created a muddy mess to contend with.

“South Dakota’s roadways impact getting cattle out and having new cattle brought to the lots,” he adds. “When cattle are staying an extra six weeks, there becomes difficulties running a business, especially when we would receive an inch of rain and wouldn’t be able to go anywhere for three days. In animal agriculture you have to conduct business 365 days of a year. Hidden costs of having cattle in the lots extra weeks to feed them and planning new routes that add extra miles to get cattle out can lead to expensive input costs. It’s easy to plan for extra feed costs, but for the extra miles you can’t always plan which roads are closed and which ones are not.”



Richter also had to cancel loads of fertilizer coming in from co-ops, not because the fields were too wet, but because the roads were impassable.

“There was a time around April to September where South Dakota Highway 10 was closed adding extra miles to get cattle to pasture,” Richter says. “I believe the poor roadways is a failure on the township, county and state levels. I know there is certainly not a simple solution. Instead of doing the bare minimum on the roadways, we need to increase revenue to compensate for additional costs of taking care of the state’s infrastructures. Today’s roadways are outdated, and we are going to soon be traveling like we are in the 1950s again. Problems with water on both sides of the roadways and low-travel gravel roads are getting out of hand. Townships just can’t afford the gravel needed to maintain roadways. We need to fix our revenue issue and have a different structure in order to maintain the roadways.”

Jason Mischel with Valley Queen Cheese in Milbank, SD, can relate. His operation has had trouble getting milk trucks to farms to supply the cheese plant.

“We pick up around 4 million pounds of milk a day in a 90-mile radius of the plant,” Mischel says. “One of the biggest challenges we faced this spring was transportation. I feel there aren’t enough roadways to meet requirements for the traffic that goes through. The roadways we have now are for the standard of single axle trucks, but now we need roadways for semi-trucks. It seems like the governing bodies don’t have the funds to maintain the roadways or to build the standards of larger needs. Wider roads would help the farm-to-market routes. Today’s South Dakota operations have evolved to 21st century-sized operations, and our infrastructure needs to reflect that.”

Flooding in the northeast part of the state only compounded roadway issues.

“There is no doubt that there are roads that are underwater, and we stay clear of those roads because of no travel signs,” he says. “We just don’t want to ruin the roads anymore than they already are. In the spring time, there are always more road restrictions, and sometimes they stay restricted longer than they need to be just to be on the safe side, which creates an awful lot of miles and time for our trucks. This effects our operations efficiency.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a rule change in late May for farm equipment that would require all farmers and everyone on the farm to obtain a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) in order to operate any farming equipment. This would be done by reclassifying all farm vehicles and implements as Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs). By reclassifying all farm vehicles as CMVs, the federal government can claim regulatory control over farmers and ranchers and how they conduct business.

If put into effect, the rule would mean any family member or employee driving a tractor or operating any piece of motorized farming equipment would be forced to pass the same tests and fill out the same detailed forms and diaries required of semitrailer drivers.

“I think it’s unnecessary and an overreach with time not well spent,” Richter says of the proposed rule. “Generally in the fall, we rely a lot on voluntary labor to get our crops out during harvest for driving the trucks. Being required to have a CDL would end that opportunity for extra help because it’s just part time and people are not going to want to pay to have their license.”

The last day for public comment on the rule was Aug. 1. Public comments must have been strongly opposed to the measure; however, as DOT officials made a statement mid-August that they have no plans to require CDLs for those who operate farm equipment on public roads or take their products to market. Apparently the DOT never had intentions to impose these regulations on ranchers. The rule was misinterpreted along the way, but has since been clarified. Simply stated, there are no plans to make rule changes for the transport of agricultural products, farm machinery or farm supplies to and from the farm.

A relaxing country drive is hardly that in South Dakota these days. Head down any gravel road in the region, and it might be a collision course into the harsh realities of the state’s infrastructure and roadway issues.

Just ask BJ Richter, who runs a cow-calf and feedlot business, along with raising corn, soybeans and alfalfa, with his father, Bill, the first generation on the ranch, located near Hecla, SD. The father-son partnership focuses on Simmental and Angus genetics. For the Richters, roadways have been a major challenge for their operation.

“In early April, I had to reschedule over 100 loads of cattle going out to pasture, as well as cattle coming into the feedlot due to South Dakota road conditions,” explains BJ. “There was about three and half weeks where cattle prices were ideal for us, but the calves couldn’t leave the lot because of the roadways.”

Richter’s operation is located eight miles from state roads, and four miles from county roads, so with the wet spring, it quickly created a muddy mess to contend with.

“South Dakota’s roadways impact getting cattle out and having new cattle brought to the lots,” he adds. “When cattle are staying an extra six weeks, there becomes difficulties running a business, especially when we would receive an inch of rain and wouldn’t be able to go anywhere for three days. In animal agriculture you have to conduct business 365 days of a year. Hidden costs of having cattle in the lots extra weeks to feed them and planning new routes that add extra miles to get cattle out can lead to expensive input costs. It’s easy to plan for extra feed costs, but for the extra miles you can’t always plan which roads are closed and which ones are not.”

Richter also had to cancel loads of fertilizer coming in from co-ops, not because the fields were too wet, but because the roads were impassable.

“There was a time around April to September where South Dakota Highway 10 was closed adding extra miles to get cattle to pasture,” Richter says. “I believe the poor roadways is a failure on the township, county and state levels. I know there is certainly not a simple solution. Instead of doing the bare minimum on the roadways, we need to increase revenue to compensate for additional costs of taking care of the state’s infrastructures. Today’s roadways are outdated, and we are going to soon be traveling like we are in the 1950s again. Problems with water on both sides of the roadways and low-travel gravel roads are getting out of hand. Townships just can’t afford the gravel needed to maintain roadways. We need to fix our revenue issue and have a different structure in order to maintain the roadways.”

Jason Mischel with Valley Queen Cheese in Milbank, SD, can relate. His operation has had trouble getting milk trucks to farms to supply the cheese plant.

“We pick up around 4 million pounds of milk a day in a 90-mile radius of the plant,” Mischel says. “One of the biggest challenges we faced this spring was transportation. I feel there aren’t enough roadways to meet requirements for the traffic that goes through. The roadways we have now are for the standard of single axle trucks, but now we need roadways for semi-trucks. It seems like the governing bodies don’t have the funds to maintain the roadways or to build the standards of larger needs. Wider roads would help the farm-to-market routes. Today’s South Dakota operations have evolved to 21st century-sized operations, and our infrastructure needs to reflect that.”

Flooding in the northeast part of the state only compounded roadway issues.

“There is no doubt that there are roads that are underwater, and we stay clear of those roads because of no travel signs,” he says. “We just don’t want to ruin the roads anymore than they already are. In the spring time, there are always more road restrictions, and sometimes they stay restricted longer than they need to be just to be on the safe side, which creates an awful lot of miles and time for our trucks. This effects our operations efficiency.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a rule change in late May for farm equipment that would require all farmers and everyone on the farm to obtain a Commercial Drivers License (CDL) in order to operate any farming equipment. This would be done by reclassifying all farm vehicles and implements as Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs). By reclassifying all farm vehicles as CMVs, the federal government can claim regulatory control over farmers and ranchers and how they conduct business.

If put into effect, the rule would mean any family member or employee driving a tractor or operating any piece of motorized farming equipment would be forced to pass the same tests and fill out the same detailed forms and diaries required of semitrailer drivers.

“I think it’s unnecessary and an overreach with time not well spent,” Richter says of the proposed rule. “Generally in the fall, we rely a lot on voluntary labor to get our crops out during harvest for driving the trucks. Being required to have a CDL would end that opportunity for extra help because it’s just part time and people are not going to want to pay to have their license.”

The last day for public comment on the rule was Aug. 1. Public comments must have been strongly opposed to the measure; however, as DOT officials made a statement mid-August that they have no plans to require CDLs for those who operate farm equipment on public roads or take their products to market. Apparently the DOT never had intentions to impose these regulations on ranchers. The rule was misinterpreted along the way, but has since been clarified. Simply stated, there are no plans to make rule changes for the transport of agricultural products, farm machinery or farm supplies to and from the farm.


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